The top 5 social media management tools for small business

Here are our picks for the best tools for managing your small business's social media presence.

Managing your company's social media presence is becoming an increasingly complex task. Small-business owners who used to rely on Twitter to post updates to LinkedIn, for instance, no longer have that option.

Fortunately, other tools allow you to manage your business's assorted social media accounts from a single dashboard. We've selected the top five that are specifically geared toward small business. To make our list, each tool had to meet several criteria.

  • Affordability: The tool is either free or priced low enough to meet the budget of a one- or two-person business.
  • Scalability: The tool grows with your company's needs, even if you start with just one or two accounts.
  • Support for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter: If a social media management tool doesn't post to all three networks, it's dead to most small businesses.
  • Update posting assistance: The tool allows you to schedule posts in advance.

HootSuite

If you've been around social media for any period of time, you've probably used HootSuite, the tool of choice for many social media professionals and small businesses. But the limitations of the free version (it supports only one user and five social profiles, for instance) mean that most businesses will grow to the point where the free version is no longer acceptable. Although HootSuite seems to have dealt with this problem by providing the option to upgrade to HootSuite Pro for unlimited profiles and more features, it's worthwhile to look around at other alternatives once your business starts demanding too much of HootSuite.

The free version does the job for microbusinesses with the standard Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts to update, and HootSuite Pro will work for small businesses that don't need to support more than two users. If you find yourself needing more-robust analytics and other features, it's time to upgrade to another tool.

Cost: HootSuite is free for one user and up to five social profiles. HootSuite Pro, priced at $10 per month, includes two user accounts, unlimited social profiles, and other premium features. Larger businesses should check out HootSuite Enterprise.

VerticalResponse

VerticalResponse launched VerticalResponse Social as a complete service for the small-business professional. It marries email and social media campaigns in a way that other tools aimed at small businesses do not. Usually people regard email and social media as separate islands, but bringing them together under the umbrella of one online marketing campaign makes much more sense. VerticalResponse tailors its products to the harried small-business person who knows how to run a company but is far from being a social media expert.

VerticalResponse Social schedules everything from single updates to entire campaigns up to 30 days in advance. It allows clients to set up their own custom content library of common websites for their industry, and it offers suggestions for content based on the nature of their business. The latter feature makes VerticalResponse attractive to people who could otherwise lose themselves in a bottomless time sink while searching out content on the Internet that's relevant to their industry.

I spoke to Alex Chang, VerticalResponse's VP of Social Platform. According to Chang, the chief advantage of VerticalResponse is that it was created for small-business professionals who think that they don't have the time for social media and are not tech-savvy. Regardless of your tech knowledge, the service's marriage of email and social media campaigns and its content-library creation feature are both huge timesavers, although the tool does feel pared down to users who are more technically inclined. Despite that minor quibble, VerticalResponse packs the most features in for the best price among the five services here, especially since it permits you to ditch any separate email newsletter service you've been using.

Cost: VerticalResponse Social is $18 per month.

Next Page: Sprout Social, Sendible, and Postling

Sprout Social

Sprout Social's major advantages over other social media management tools lie in its user interface and in its detailed but easy-to-understand reports. I also like its ability to assign tasks to team members, as well as its "Smart Inbox," which collects all your social media messages (Twitter mentions and direct messages, Facebook mentions and messages, and LinkedIn messages) in an organized inbox that you can manage from one dashboard.

Sprout's feedback is also extremely useful. After you set up your account, it pulls together your follower demographics within 24 hours, and it tells you what you could be doing better. As an analytics junkie, I find this feature to be my favorite part of Sprout Social by far, but other users will appreciate how easy to navigate the Sprout tool is. Sprout's lack of a tie-in with email marketing is notable, especially if you've tried out VerticalResponse's tool.

Cost: The Small Biz plan, which supports up to 20 social profiles, costs $39 per month. The Deluxe plan includes a maximum of 40 social profiles and costs $59 per month. The Premium plan offers unlimited profile maintenance at a cost of $899 per month.

Sendible

Sendible drills down on various tasks, giving you the choice of posting to your Facebook personal-page photo album, posting notes to your Facebook page or profile, posting items to a LinkedIn Group or your LinkedIn status, and so on. This attention to specific actions saves you a lot of time, and it makes Sendible's cost over other tools well worth the investment for businesses that use social media more aggressively.

Monitoring social media for business-relevant keywords and managing your social media presence are a natural fit, and Sendible has married the two tasks well, giving you the ability to create custom email alerts for key terms such as your company name. You can send email from within the tool, as well, although Sendible does not integrate email and social media into one comprehensive campaign as VerticalResponse does.

Google Analytics monitoring and basic social media analytics come with the Marketer package, which is all most small businesses need.

Cost: The Marketer plan includes up to 30 services for a fee of $30 per month. The Business plan covers a maximum of 80 services and costs $70 per month.

Postling

Postling blends social media monitoring, posting, and reporting, but it also incorporates instant notifications for reviews of your business on TripAdvisor and Yelp, the two sites by which hospitality and restaurant businesses live and die. For any company involved in those industries, Postling is the obvious tool of choice. The inbox is similar to Sprout Social's in that it allows you to deal with all mentions and messages from one place.

Postling's pricing structure makes it ideal for businesses that want to maintain a pared-down social media presence. If you need the scalability to add many accounts in the future, it may not be the best choice given its per-account pricing.

Cost: Postling is $5 per month for five social media accounts, $3 per month for each extra account.

Different Tools for Different Businesses

Your choice of social media management tool depends on the nature of your business and how deeply involved you want to become with social media. If you don't consider yourself tech-savvy, or if you like the timesaving feature of a built-in content library, VerticalResponse might be appropriate. If you're working with a tight budget and you require fewer features, it's hard to beat the free version of HootSuite.

Sendible is the best option if you're looking to automate tasks and receive alerts when your business becomes a topic of conversation on social networks. If you're operating a service-oriented business, such as a restaurant or spa, and if you need real-time monitoring of TripAdvisor and Yelp, check out Postling.

Each of the paid tools I've discussed here offers a free trial (except for Postling, which charges $1 for a trial), so you risk little in trying them to find the one that best fits your business's needs.

Angela West is still waffling about which of these paid tools she'll upgrade to. Copywriter by day, she specializes in making website copy easy to read. Follow her on Twitter (@angelawest) or check out her Facebook page for a compilation of all of her PCWorld Business Center posts.

This story, "The top 5 social media management tools for small business" was originally published by PCWorld.

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